Suffering and salvation

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Mark Poisler ’21

The first of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddhist belief states that “life is suffering.” Although most of us share in Christian beliefs, anyone can prove this truth by examining his or her life. No matter the background, everyone suffers. From the single mother struggling to raise five children, the wealthy man who learned about the brain cancer diagnosis of his daughter, or those struggling in the current pandemic, all humans go through agony in their life. Even if we do not have current struggles, we face the inevitable truth that we with our loved ones will die, a biological truth. 

The second Truth from the Buddhist tradition believes that this suffering originates from “desire” (for health, love, happiness, vacation, etc.). Following simple logic, to stop these sufferings, we must stop desires for pleasure and immorality. I do believe, due to Original Sin, that any desire will lead to suffering–desire for materials will leave a void and a desire/love for others will lead to sacrifices for the relationship. To take this view in light of Catholic thought, I do not believe that we should attempt to stop all sufferings or enter the state of Nirvana on earth. Instead, we should funnel our sufferings from one, fulfilling desire: an “Agape” love of others and God. 

Many smart people ask, “Why does a loving God allow suffering?” I have wrestled with this myself, but I think we are asking the wrong question. While on earth in Jesus, God suffered. Jesus wept for Lazurus, saw his earthly father die, and died one of the worst Roman deaths. Through this suffering, Jesus showed “love.” He expressed his love and desire for a relationship with us by dying for our sins ( we can not have the fullest relationship with God while outside of the state of grace). Just looking at an example of divine love on earth, we realize that we must suffer to truly love and desire someone. How do you love someone without offering a sacrifice? God allows suffering on sinful earth for love to exist.

So, the question we should ponder is “What should I do with my constant suffering?” In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says:

 “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

According to Catholic teaching, Jesus will raise the faithful into new life for eternity. To spend eternity with God, one must show love towards Him in their lifetime, and the way to do that is by “taking up the cross” or offering up suffering to God through prayer. Those who attempt to ease the pain will waste their time and eventually lose the greatest opportunity to love God. Life makes up less than a fraction of a second compared to the eternity of God, so this fraction of suffering should focus on desiring God above all things. The desire for God can be fulfilled after suffering on earth, while suffering for earthly things may not.

In this pandemic, life seems terrible; however, we should not complain about this new normal. Instead, we should embrace it and find ways to “carry” this cross with Jesus, help our brothers and sisters, and strive towards the Resurrection.